Monday, September 12, 2011

Oscar Watch: Part 1

Well, we're about halfway there. The Oscars are only about six months away, and I think it's good time to offer up my first thoughts on this year's Oscar race. I like to consider myself an amateur Oscar analyst, and I have tried to keep my ear to the ground about anything and everything Oscar over the past few months, from big movies, to small movies, to Cannes, all the way to Venice and Telluride. I have assembled a little bit of a picture as to how I feel the Oscars for this upcoming year are shaping up, so I decided to share my thoughts with you guys and see how you feel about them.

First off, I think the big story is The Help. A modestly budgeted studio movie that managed to make a big splash with critics, audiences, and Academy members alike. The performances from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are almost all but assured Oscar nods at this point, where as Jessica Chastain could get some notice for her portrayal as Celia Foote. With Chastain in so many things this year and winning over nearly every one in the film industry with her broad talent, the Academy may want to recognize her for something, and The Help may be it. As for the movie itself, while some want to down play its potential as a Best Picture hopeful, I think it has a legitimate shot. The Academy loves these sorts of movies, and it is not very hard to assume it will get the right number of number one votes to get in, with so many, especially older Academy members, head over heels in love with the movie.

Moving on to some of the independents that have sprung out of the festival circuit. Terrence Malick's Tree of Life was so divisive that I think it will be lucky to possibly wrangle an SFX nom, much else is just wishful thinking. As for Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, the almost inevitable screenplay nom and its box office haul is its win. Then there is Drive, a genre movie that managed to find critical traction. We'll see next week how the casual moviegoer feels about Ryan Gosling's performance, but the movie's director Nicholas Winding Refn did manage to impress the tough Cannes crowd and win Best Director, so he could be a dark horse contender to watch for in the Directing category.

Then, there is the George Clooney one-two punch of, The Ides of March and The Descendants. The Ides of March seems like a soft lob compared to The Descendants, while Clooney directed March and the political subject matter should appeal to many in the Academy, the movie's initial response has been lukewarm, where as The Descendants has been a grand slam so far. Critics love it and are raving that Clooney gives the performance of his career (which I think he did two years ago in Up in the Air). While I am not a fan of director Alexander Payne, Clooney will more than likely show up with a Best Actor nod for the movie, and the movie itself a Best Picture contender.

As for other Oscar contenders that have recently come out of the woodwork. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, has everything going for it. A respected director. A mega weight cast. And well loved source material. The movie has been playing well with critics, and its slick stylishness should be enough to get it in the Best Picture field, and Gary Oldman I hear owns this movie. Could he finally bring home the Oscar I have wanted for him for so many years? Character actors rejoice! Where as David Croenberg's A Dangerous Method has found very little traction in its festival screenings, being blasted for its uncinematic interpretation of the play upon which it was based, having to solely rely on the performances of Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen to get it through the award's season. Same goes for Roman Polanski's Carnage, featuring Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly, and Jodie Foster. Though, there still are plenty more Oscar hopefuls out there.

The Artist is one of the biggest contenders in the race thus far, the stylish Cannes' hit that recreates the Old Hollywood before talkies by being a silent film like old Chaplin. While some don't appreciate the straightforward charm of the concept, enough respect it to make this the only surefire Best Picture nominee of the year so far (save for maybe The Descendants). While there are rumors about Warner Bros. wanting to push Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II for Best Picture, it wont happen. Why? Cause in order for a series like this to get recognized, the other chapters would have had to of had a stronger presence, and seeing as how none of the other movies in the series really made a splash with the Academy, WB should not waste their time (same goes for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with many wanting Andy Serkis to get a nod for his mo-cap work, but it wont happen, the SFX nod and most likely win will be the story for this one).

Then there's the flicks coming in the next few weeks: Warrior and Moneyball. Both will play well with critics, but Academy attention will be sparse for these movies, both playing more for audience approval than Academy approval. Same goes for We Bought A Zoo, coming in December. Cameron Crowe has had some Oscar success, but his past few flicks haven't been up to snuff. As well, I am getting nothing from Jason Reitman's Young Adult, and as for Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, Leo Dicaprio may get some notoriety, but the movie itself probably wont strike it rich with the Academy. Eastwood's movies have been beaten by the ugly stick as of late, and I don't see this one changing the trend the Academy has shown over the past few years, even if Eastwood seems to be getting better with age. The real dark horses of the Fall and Winter are Hugo and The Adventures of Tintin.

Both are family entertainment from two of the greatest living filmmakers, one Martin Scorsese, the other Spielberg. I have a feeling one of these will strike with the Academy, and the other will be relegated to box office success only. While I would like to say it's Spielberg, Tintin has yet to grab me with its marketing, where as Hugo's sheer scope of its production already has tech categories galore in the backdrop of the Oscar race. Will it manage to rise to Best Picture contender, time will tell. But don't go feeling sorry for Spielberg. At the moment the race is his to lose. If War Horse delivers in the way that I am hoping it will, this could be the movie that runs the field, and is easily one of the few movies yet to be seen that I believe will be a Best Picture hopeful. And what about Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? The tale comes on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, as well, Daldry has never made a movie that didn't get nominated.

So this is how I see it all playing out so far. With the rule change, there wont be 10 nominees this year. Depending upon how many movies get 300 number one votes, anywhere from 5-10 nominees will be named and right now I only see five. The way everything has shaped up so far, to hope for any more than that is just wishful thinking. Here they are:

The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
War Horse

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